When Walt Whitman wrote that he believed the "real war" would never get into the books, this is the side he was talking about (Belferman 1996). Yet, it is important that we remember and recall the medical side of the conflict too, as horrible and terrifying as it was (Adams 1952). Long before doctors and people knew anything about bacteria and what caused disease was the time of Civil War medicine. Doctors during the Civil War (always referred to as "surgeons") were incredibly unprepared. Most surgeons had as little as two years of medical school because very few pursued further education. At that time, Harvard Medical School did not even own a single stethoscope or microscope until well after the war. Most Civil War surgeons had never treated a gun shot wound because they were accustomed to treating minor head colds and sore throats. Many had never performed surgery or even held a scalpel. Medical boards let extremely unqualified students practice medicine due to much needed help for wounded soldiers on the battlefield. "Some ten thousand surgeons served in the Union and about four thousand served in the Southern Confederacy (Cunningham 1958)."
By far, the deadliest thing that faced the Civil War soldier was disease and infection. For every soldier who died in battle, two died of disease (Cunningham 1958). Among the long list of terminal and fatal diseases that plagued the battlefield as well as the operating table and hospitals were dysentery (a severe form of diarrhea which was very common among the soldiers), measles, small pox, malaria, pneumonia, and "camp itch" which was caused by skin disease and insects. Malaria was usually brought on by camping in damp areas, where mosquitos were prone to. There were many factors that came into play which explained why disease spread so rapidly. Among the explanations were as follows: inadequate physicals before entering the Army, the fact many troops came from rural areas,
Cited: Adams, George W. Doctors In Blue,"Medical History of the Union" Baton Rouge:University of Louisiana Press, 1952 Belferman, Mary "On Surgery 's Cutting Edge in the Civil War" The Washington Post, June 13, 1996 Cunningham, H.H. Doctors in Gray, Baton Rouge: University of Louisiana Press, 1958 Coco, Gregory A. A Strange and Blighted Land-Gettysburg, The Aftermath, 1995 Schildt, John W. Hunter Homes McGuire:Doctor in Gray, 1986 Adams, George W. "Fighting for Time" The National Historical Society 's-The Image of War 1861-1865 Volume IV